You didn’t see this review coming, did you?
Batman: The Lazarus Syndrome is a radio drama released that originally broadcast on BBC Radio 4 back in 1989 to celebrate the Batman character’s 50th anniversary. This multi-cast performance piece is produced by AudioGo and is available for download on their website at £1.49 or you can buy it as a CD for £4.62, either way you’re getting a better bargain than you would on Amazon by a very wide margin. This dramatization isn’t all that dramatic at all, in fact it’s quite corny, but I must say that it’s something nostalgic fans and children would thoroughly enjoy.
Every time there is a Batman cartoon nowadays the voice performances are always compared to those from Batman: The Animated Series. Since this was released in 1989 the urge to try and get a performance to sound as much like Kevin Conroy or Mark Hamill as possible isn’t there. Ra’s Al Ghul (pronounced “Raas” like in the Nolan films), Gordon, and Bullock all sound far different than you would expect as well and it takes some getting used to because Batman: The Animated Series has had such a huge impact on our idea of what these characters should sound like for over 20 years. For instance Bob Sessions’ Batman is much lighter and friendlier sounding and varies only slightly between the Bruce Wayne and Batman voices. The Joker, played by Kerry Shale actually has hints of that melodic Blue Meanie element that Hamill made famous. The voices of Gordon, Bullock, and Ra’s Al Ghul didn’t sound right to me at all, but I still have to applaud many of these voice actors for taking on multiple roles unnoticed.
Some of the most interesting casting and easily the #1 reason I have for suggesting this audio title to you in the first place is the inclusion of Michael Gough, the Alfred Pennyworth of BATMAN (1989) and the following three Batman films of the 90s. Sadly the Alfred many of us grew up with has passed so it’s very bittersweet to hear him play the role one last time (There’s another audio title out there with Gough in the role of Alfred as well). So when I say that this is a great work for nostalgic fans to enjoy, it’s totally because of Gough who, besides being a great nod to the films, delivers the very best performance! Speaking of the 1989 Tim Burton Bat-film, this audio title also stars Garrick Hagon, who played the part of Tourist Dad in that movie’s opening scene! He plays a far bigger role here though as both Ra’s Al Ghul and Thomas Wayne. Star Wars fans might be interested to know that Garrick also played Red Three AKA Biggs Darklighter in Star Wars— OR DID I JUST BLOW YOUR MIND?
The story here isn’t exactly going to have you on the edge of your seat. Bruce Wayne has been replaced by an impostor and since HUSH won’t be created for another 14 years or so we can count Thomas Elliot out. This new Bruce Wayne is liquidating all the Wayne assets and making a move to destroy everything in the Batcave, even going so far as ordering Alfred to poison the bats. There’s not much mystery there of course as to the whodunnit because the reveal is made obvious by the title “Lazarus Syndrome” nor is there very much drama in Bruce’s escape from Talia’s clingy embrace and return to Gotham which happens very quickly and without much detail. In fact, the audio title is very light in terms of detail for its own story and yet quite heavy when it comes to feeding listeners facts about the comics. This is why I say it’s a great listen for new readers. It’s an adventure that takes place soon after the death of Jason Todd and his demise is touched upon in the dialogue as re the events of the Killing Joke. We learn how Dick Grayson became Robin and then evolved into Nightwing– he’s also operating in New York here as opposed to Gotham or Bludhaven. And if all of that wasn’t enough the story flashes back to Bruce’s fall into the well and his first confrontation with Jim Gordon. So the fake-Bruce Wayne plot is hardly the centerpiece, it’s instead a crash course in pre-New 52 and pre-Tim Drake Batman mythology all squeezed into a tight 45 minute narrative. Quite impressive when you look at it that way.
Of course these lectures are anything but subtle. Characters go into long and rather frequent monologues about who they are and what their relationship is with Batman almost for no reason that lead into flashbacks that can be quite confusing at first listen. This was indeed a radio broadcast but there is no narrator to speak of. No one to set the scene for you to imagine the characters acting in. You must understand that director Dirk Maggs bushed the boundaries of radio drama, turning them into what were considered “audio movies” by adding cinematic soundtrack and a greater emphasis on sound effects to signal to the listener that the setting has changed or an important action has happened. The first 2 minutes were probably the most jarring because it opens cold to a fight scene so you hear a lot of grunts and crashing but once you get into the proper mindset it’s perfectly easy to follow along. Just be careful about listening to it when you’re going to bed. It requires quite a bit of attention since it moves so quickly and so often fades into a new location, flashback, or even a dream sequence.
One of the most interesting things that comic fans will notice isn’t just the odd reference to Son of the Demon or Year Three, it’s that quite a bit of the dialogue in some scenes is lifted word-for-word from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. There was something oddly amusing about hearing a friendlier Batman tell a punk that “There are seven working defenses from this position…”
Who would like this? Nostalgic Batman fans of Gough’s Alfred, comic readers who loved the pre-New 52 Batman universe, and parents eager to teach their kids about the Batman mythology. It’s also good for a laugh because there are some legitimately funny lines in this by Alfred and Barbara Gordon. The story can be rather corny and outright nonsensical at times but it’s good lighthearted fun.
Is it available at a good price? A steal! But make sure you pick it up at the AudioGo website. I know that Amazon is almost always the cheapest way to go but this time around you will be paying over $10 bucks more for the CD than you would at AudioGo.
Do I think you should go buy it? Sure, why not! It’s not exactly a must-have but it’s incredibly cheap, a unique way to experience a Batman story than what you’re used to, and it’s lovely to hear Michael Gough as Alfred one last time.
You can download your copy of Batman: The Lazarus Syndrome here, at the AudioGo website.